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Backers of comprehensive sex ed not happy with compromise plan

By John Hanna, The Wichita Eagle, June 13, 2006

TOPEKA, Kan. - Conservative State Board of Education members have backed away from mandating abstinence-only courses, but supporters of comprehensive sexuality classes don't like a proposed compromise policy.

The compromise would say districts must offer a comprehensive program of "abstinence until marriage" that also gives students information about contraception and sexually transmitted diseases. The policy would be part of guidelines for health classes, with no specific penalty for districts that don't comply.

The board heard comments about the proposal Tuesday and expects to vote on it Wednesday. Advocates of "Abstinence Plus" programs, which promote abstinence but give students information about birth control, worried the proposal overemphasizes waiting to have sex until marriage.

"It's close," said Rachel Prince, of Lawrence, a program educator for the Topeka YWCA's teenage pregnancy prevention program. "We would like to see 'abstinence until adulthood,' because that's inclusive of everybody."

The board upset advocates of comprehensive sex education in March by telling the state's 300 districts they must receive parents' written permission before teaching their children sex education. Most districts had assumed a child would participate unless a parent objected in writing.

Only a few other states, including Arizona, Nevada and Utah, have "opt-in" requirements for sex education, according to the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States.

During that debate, Kathy Martin, a Clay Center Republican, part of the board's 6-4 conservative majority, suggested threatening schools with the loss of state accreditation if they didn't have abstinence-only instruction.

Martin has said the state should send a message to young people that they are expected to avoid premarital sex and that abstinence is the only sure way to avoid diseases and unwanted pregnancies. Hoping to settle the issue, the board had its staff draft the new language.

Board member John Bacon, a conservative, said he believes the new language deals with the issue "quite adequately."

"I'm not sure what the beef is," said Bacon, an Olathe Republican.

But advocates of comprehensive sex education still worried the board's goal is to push districts toward abstinence-only programs, which they say aren't effective.

"It's kind of a tricky way of wording it," said Lois Culvert, a retired sex education teacher from Lenexa. "Abstinence until marriage? What if you don't get married until 30?"

Kei-Ashia Cosey, a 16-year-old Topeka student, supports comprehensive programs even though she promotes abstinence to fellow students while working for the YWCA. Under abstinence-only programs, she said, "What are you saying to kids who are already having sex?"

Debra Rukes, director of the Topeka YWCA's teenage pregnancy prevention program, said she's glad the board is moving toward compromise but added that the new language still contains "buzz words."

"I'm not going to move on my position," she said.



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